Shelbourne will be hoping that last weekend’s emphatic win over Athlone Town will kickstart their season, having failed to win any of their first four league matches.
Owen Heary’s side have had an underwhelming start to their 2017 First Division campaign but three draws from their opening four fixtures did at least give them a stable base on which to build. And putting four past the Midlands side will spur confidence in a team that is heavy on youthful potential.
Stability, of course, is not a word one would use to describe Athlone’s current situation and the meeting with Wexford may test whether the 4-1 win at Lisseywoolen was down more to Shelbourne’s abilities or Athlone’s apparent disarray.
Over the winter Heary signed two of the country’s most exciting young players with Aaron Ashe joining from Drogheda United and Adam Evans being lured to Tolka Park from near neighbours Bohemians. And despite failing to score in either of their opening two league games, Shels have now started to find the net with Evans bagging three goals in their last three matches.
At the back Shels have a greater concentration of experience with veteran ‘keeper Dean Delany between the sticks and Alan Byrne and Derek Prendergast among their back four.
One of the surprises of these early stages of the campaign has been Prendergast’s newly discovered eye for goal with the centre back joining Evans on three league strikes, all of which were secured over the past fortnight.
Elsewhere on the field, Shels will be without experienced midfielder Robert Bayly, who left the club by mutual consent earlier in the week, but they have added Mark Hughes to their panel, giving the ex-Drogheda, Athlone and Longford midfielder his club debut against Athlone last week.
Three points against a Wexford side that have just two draws from their opening five games would push the Reds towards the leading group in the league table and instill further confidence in a team that have the potential to challenge for the Division title.
Wexford have endured a turbulent winter, losing manager Shane Keegan to Premier Division Galway United, suffering relegation to the First Division after play-off defeat to Drogheda United, and effectively becoming a different club due to the financial complexities of Mick Wallace.
This has all been reflected in the club’s early form and they currently sit bottom of the First Division table. Manager Damien Locke has put together a new squad after several club stalwarts departed for Australia towards the end of the 2016 season and his charges have earned jus two points from their opening five league games.
Draws against Cobh Ramblers (away) and UCD (home) represent decent results for the club formerly known as ‘Youths’ but defeats to Athlone, Cabinteely and Waterford have punctured confidence that this team have the wherewithal to make a return to the top tier at the first time of asking.
Without the goal-scoring instincts of Danny Furlong, who left for Australia last year, Wexford have scored just three goals in five games this year while conceding eight. The return from injury of Lee Duffy will offer some optimism ahead of the trip to Tolka Park and Locke will have a fully fit squad to choose from on Friday night, although he will be without the suspended Mark Slater.
The fact that these sides have already met this season offers an indication of how Friday’s match might go. Wexford traveled to Tolka Park in mid February for a Leinster Senior Cup tie and Shelbourne came out on top, winning 4-2 in a game that they led 4-0 before two strikes by Andrew O’Connor narrowed the margin. Everything we know at this point suggests a similar outcome this weekend.
Referee: John McLoughlin
Shelbourne have scored seven times in the league this season, all of which have come in their last three fixtures, while Wexford have managed just three goals from their five league outings.
The last time these clubs met in the league was on October 9th, 2015 when Wexford won 4-1. Only two of Wexford’s starting XI that night are still at the club: goalkeeper Graham Doyle and midfielder Craig Wall. The only two Shelbourne players still at Tolka Park are James English and Adam O’Connor.
The most league goals Shels defender Derek Prendergast has scored in one season is four, in 2015 with Bohemians. After five games of this season he already has three.
Shelbourne Evens, Draw 23/10, Wexford 12/5.
Shelbourne 2-0 Wexford
Injured: Aidan Collins.
Doubtful: Niall Lanigan.
Suspended: Mark Slater.